The downward spiral.....

I've loved listening to (and playing) music for the last 35 years. I was trained as a pianist and suspect that my ears are at least decent (even if they do stick out
a little more than I'd like...)

Like so many of us, I suspect, I have assembled more high-end systems that I can remember - heaven only knows how much money I've spent, how many
reviews I've pored over, how many times I've labored over cable-matching, AB comparisons, toeing in massive speakers just that final 1/16 inch to get the soundstage
just right, rearranging living rooms to minimize that nasty hump at 56 Hz etc etc. I'm sure many of you can relate...

Being a bit of a contrarian at heart I recently have been conducting the Ultimate Experiment - the Final Downgrade. A few months ago I came into possession of an
old pair of Quad 57s (now being rebuilt) with matching 303 power amp. As those who know these things, the sounds emanating from these devices was sublime.
It made me think. Here I was listening to simply beautiful music through some of the cheapest components I've ever bought. What if I continued my downward financial
Out went some very expensive tube amplification, German turntable, carbon fiber arm, expensive MC cartridge, Nordost cable, tube output SACD player etc. In came a Thorens TD125,
complete with SME 3009, V15III, and the cheapest decent CD player I could find (the original Rega Planet). For the phone/preamp I chose a pair of Pro-Ject components,
As soon as I can find a Quad 33 I'll grab it and do a little renovation, esp on the phono section. As the speakers were being now rebuilt I acquired an old pair of
Maggies (12QR) to tide me over. The interconnects are strictly mid-fi, and the speaker cable less than that. The new (non-ported) subwoofer was relatively expensive - about
$450, but not well-known.
I anticipate the cost of the whole system will be around $2300. The average age of the components will be 35 years old.

What am I losing? Certainly not money, that's for sure! Perhaps a few Hertz at the bottom end. Perhaps. What surprises me daily (I listen usually for about 4 hours a day to everything
between 12th century plainsong to rap and everything between) is that this relatively cheap and certainly very old-fashioned system does so much that is absolutely right. I feel no
pressing needs to upgrade anything; no tweaking necessary. The music comes through as I want.
In my spare time I still haunt the local high-end stores and listen to some ultra expensive gear: not once have I gone home with an axe to do The Right Thing to my '70s

So, my question is a simple one. How much progress has there been since 1970? For the last thirty years I have firmly believed that each year has brought some progress.
Now I question this. As I write this I am listening to a record pressed in 1975 (Neville Marriner) and my happiness is complete. Am I losing my grip?
There's been plenty of progress in audio reproduction since 1970. But I don't think that's the issue you're dealing with. I suspect it's more age and experience related. If you're lucky you reach a point where you realize that the music really is more important than the equipment. At that point a relatively modest system becomes more than satisfactory. You should be careful and not take the downgrading to extreme. It's possible to go too far.
Realizing that the music is more important then gear means you are not losing your grip. There have been major progress in the media, and the gear that plays it. Otherwise, a 1960's amp and speaker will still shine. Mine still do, notwithstanding I have current updated gear. I recently saw a single 1960 Tannoy speaker that I had going for about $7K on the gon. Who would believe? I would look for some of the old analogue master tapes that are being transferred to bluray. Miles Blue is coming soon. That will give you an appreciation of that it is all about the music.
To your question: Things have improved but the "law of diminishing returns" is still the same.

Some people buy a system to listen to music, others buy music to listen to their system. Neither is the only way but I think the first one is cheaper and will lead to a much longer satisfaction.

What probably has improved more is your experience after 35 yrs. Put it to good use!
I really can't answer your question about progress when put into the context of the "sublime" midrange of Quad 57 and 63 speakers, is there really anything out there better? More dynamic maybe deeper bass for sure but musically engaging, I'm not too sure if you really want to connect to the music, good choice and enjoy!
I'm not sure high end audio has improved significantly over the last 20 years or so (except for sources maybe). Actually I find many of the newer pieces (speakers and amps) less appealing. They seem more analytical (perhaps more accurate) but less satisfying somehow. Like hi def TV, do we really want see the zits on the actors face?

I have also been back and forth over the past 30 years or so. I've finally (currently) very happily settled on a a moderately priced integrated amp playing a pair of 16 year old speakers. I don't see the need to upgrade, except 'for the fun of it'.
I'm envious of both you and my Dad. My Dad is listening to a pair of Dahlquist DQ 10's that he bought in the 70's. I have gone through numerous speakers, amps, preamps, cd players, cables etc.

Lately, I find that with age and maturity, (I'm 48), I don't need the latest and greatest. Both of my family cars are approaching 6 years old each. Up until this point, I did not hold on to a car past 3 years. I got bored and needed another new toy.

It is similar with regard to audio. I revere the audiophile that is content listening to fine music on fine equipment and is satisfied rather than having to purchase the newest toy.
Boy, did your original post and question start me thinking. It seems to me that for the ordinary person looking to purchase equipment in order to appreciate music, and not the other way around (nice point, Onemug), there was a great deal of positive change from 1970 to the mid-80s -- partly thanks to the pressure brought to bear on manufacturers by the likes of Stereo Review and Julian Hirsch. During that period, the sound reproduction quality of equipment (both electronics and speakers) continuously got better, at least with respect to what you call "mid-fi" equipment -- that is, the stuff most ordinary folks like me bought for their dorm rooms and living rooms. The arrival of the Compact Disc was the crowning achievement of that era -- virtually no noise, more convenience, and less opportunity for damage or wear. But it seems to me that from the mid-80s until the arrival of iTunes and the iPod, nothing much changed.

For true hi-fi, I think there has also been improvement -- I still have an Apt Holman preamp, which at the time was considered an excellent product -- but even after having it completely rehabilitated, it doesn't sound as good as the modern preamps I own. But I think the improvement is less marked than with mid-fi, and I also agree with Onemug that we see the law of diminishing returns working in spades.

Today if I pick up one of the trade magazines, all any of them want to talk about is equipment most folks can't afford -- and to hear the magazines tell it, the more zeros there are in the price tag, the better the equipment is (I would give my eyeteeth to pick up The Absolute Sound some day and read "Yes, the Gargantua 2500 is a wonderful amp, but it costs $40,000 -- only an idiot would pay that when the Cambridge Audio 840w delivers 95% of the performance, and more convenience and adaptability, at 6% of the price"). I recently went to a dealer event and listened to a rig costing over $200,000.00 total, with the manufacturers reps present, and was completely unimpressed. If anything, it sounded worse, not better, than the equipment in my listening room.

So my take is that while there has been definite improvement in features, and convenience, and SOME improvement in sound with hi-fi, it hasn't been enough to make old Quads, or Maggies, or ARC SP-9s, or CJ 2250s, or any other older, quality equipment obsolete, so long as it still functions properly.

What's the moral? I'm not sure, except maybe that once the equipment got to the point where it reproduces the recorded sound clearly and cleanly, without significant distortion or noise, that the further "improvements" in sound quality have largely been illusory -- or at least not worth what the manufacturers now seem to want to charge for them.
Excellent (and true!) topic.

For all of the expensive amps I own, not a one sounds as right or provides me with as much musical enjoyment as my (bone stock, but with modern parts) Dynaco ST70. More or less, the same is true of some of the Fried loudspeakers I own.

Oftentimes, today's components will show the sizzle (bookmatched veneers, double digit layers of finish, ridiculously baroque faceplates/heatsinks/casework/cosmetics, jewelry grade connectors, and of course, the obligatory blue LED) is more important than the steak.
May whatever god I believe in help me not to follow this path. Thank you for this thread.
57s4me...equal parts of cool/nostagia/logic....can't beat it.
It's nice to feel not entirely AWOL on this - thank you for your comments!
Currently listening to Leon Russell, sun streaming through the open window; sometimes life is just too good.

Peace and great music to everyone!
Sure, there has been progress since the '70s but the improvements made in the area of materials allowed me to build a system based on old tech but made better than they could have back then. A best of both worlds scenario.

I never really thought about it until I read your post but my amp is nothing more than a well built class A/B design. Nothing exotic; just a somewhat fanatical desire to keep all circuitry descreet, requiring all of it be handbuilt. My speakers use a widebander with a ribbon tweeter. My CDP is just that, a CDP and my cables are nothing newer than what Bell Labs discovered all those decades ago, just made with better materials.

I think the most exotic thing out of my whole system is the CD drawer material. Granted, its not like what the OP did with searching out older gear but its nothing earth shattering either and I find myself just listening to music without the bug to upgrade. Going back to a simpler time is one way and building a system with the realization that its all been done before helps as well.
If we define "progress" as the development of new technologies, then of course there has been progress. However, if we are judging the new technologies on whether or not they actually do sound better than the older ones, then no, there has been very little progress, IMO. Others will disagree that have different sonic priorities than I do, and that's just dandy. Different strokes for different folks.
Well, if you really want a downward spiral, I'm listening almost exclusively to a cheap mini watt tube amp, while at least 12k worth of pre and power amps languish in the closet. It's disgusting, but I really prefer the cheapest tube amp around to the sound of my pricy ss gear. Prolly going to ditch the amps and modern speakers for the mini watt and ancient original Fortes.
Just for the hell of it, I listened to the 'Seger Sessions' which was recorded live with no rehearsals, winging it all the way. A simple but pure recording on a simple system that blew me away.

Live never sounded so good.
"Live never sounded so good."

Now thats what I'm talking about, spoken like a true audiophile:)
The progress has been mainly that there are so many ways to get excellent sound even on a budget with just a little imagination these days compared to past.

THe bar itself regarding the ultimate sound has not really been raised that much, its just more obtainable for more than ever before.

Sound is sound. There is a finite limit to how good it can sound, though many seek more like some Shangri La. Forget that crap. Good for you for using your head and coming to your senses rather than let your emotions and any fears of inadequacy dictate your actions!
I owned a set of Quad 57s , they were great in there day . A few months back I heard a set at a friends/club members , and although they were ok they were not close to todays mid fi or better speakers . The past was great but I couldn't go back .
Good to read that you reached sonic nirvana in this life-time: most people do not! Also, like another member wrote, you've realized that it's about the music & not about the electronics/equipment. Two important things to realize about this hobby & then one can make some very reasonable, good sounding purchases.

I believe that there has been plenty of progress since the 1970s but IMO it has been in the digital arena & in the materials area. Since the advent of CDs, people are steadily & gradually getting a better understanding of how to make better sounding CDs that have less digititis in them. Materials technology has also had a vast improvement whereby passive & active components are more reliable & more importantly more transparent. Older architectures of power amps, preamps (that are very solid sonically) sound way better if many/all of the components are replaced with today's better quality components. The architectures of yester years' electronics are solid & often carried on even today. No reason to change as humans still listen the way we used to in 1970.
Like George Bernard Shaw once wrote (I think it was him): too much of anything is bad!
Don't take your downward spiral to the limit - you'll crash..... There has to be a cut-off point beyond which you leave hi-fi & enter mass-fi.....
I used a $200,000 system and now I'm using a $1000 system and get better sound than ever before. I have found that high-end is just about side-stepping into different flavors and there aren't any true improvements. When gaining something you always sacrifice something else. I have found that true improvements come from reducing wattage consumption, it makes it sound silkier with more microdetail. I have also bypassed all Nordost Valhalla cables and just use cheap male/male RCA adapters between DAC and amp, the improvement was huge. I have also removed Virtual Dynamics Judge and Genesis power cables, PS Audio Premier Power Plants, two Acoustic Revive RTP-4 Ultimate, I replaced all with battery powered netbook undervolted to 4 watts in playback using Puppy Linux = best sound ever.
My DAC has a AC/DC adapter that plugs into the wall, no power cables needed, best sound ever. I have removed all audiophile gear and tweaks (except my own) and it has never sounded so good.
Very timely thread... I too found myself on the "downgrade" slope, but having applied all the knowledge and lessons learned from previous systems, my current system provides me with more musical enjoyment than I've ever accomplished before in my room. Maybe it's psychologically rooted because of the money taken out of the system, but it's certainly all about the music now. It's a good time to be an audiophile!
Maybe it is time for you guys to buy JVC boomboxes and be happy. It's all about music, remember?
The answer I am sure, is that things have moved on, in some areas more than others. I think tube and SS amps, particularly the former, have improved greatly, Pre amps maybe more so, also CD players. Speakers maybe not so much change.

What happens, I am sure, is your priorities and hearing changes. I have always believed the biggest dichotomy in our hobby, is between HiFi and musical priorities. Some components, particularly speakers, seem in the HiFi side. I am thinking of Wilson and BandW speakers. Both are excellent companies, making carefully researched products, but I listen to them and hate the sound. I can see the point, detailed, neutral, great dynamics, but the sound is flat and sterile, to me. Not denigrating the company or enthusiasts, but it is not for me.

Consistently, I go to shows and listen to Megabuck systems, with state of the art full range speakers, 500watt solid state monoblocks and I find the result painful. People blame the room quality, I don't buy it at all. Cheaper, tube based systems are much more enjoyable.

To me, many in the industry and reviewers are pushing into an area which is not for me, ultradetailed, dynamic, great base, but it's not music
Inna, may the next upgrade after the next upgrade grant you serenity and wisdom.
I have a different take on this. I cannot speak for you, 57s4me, but I'm pretty sure that if I found myself in your situation, I would eventually start upgrading that new "downgraded" system. Maybe a different vintage amp? Hey, that's nice. Just for fun, let's try some modern cables. Wow, what a huge improvement! And while each of those upgrades would seem significant to me, even profound, what you have discovered is that they are not. They are just change. It's something of an illusion or a self-deception and it's what fuels this hobby.
I read through the whole thread -- very interesting -- and then scrolled back up to Onemug's comment about the law of diminishing returns. A lot depends on how much you value incremental improvements (even, IME, with a modest system like mine). And Drubin in absolutely right about improvement vs. change! Great thread.
"I used a $200,000 system and now I'm using a $1000 system and get better sound than ever before"

Sorry, I don't believe a word of this.
Inna, not so sure about the cheap boom boxes, but yes it is about the music, and many times I find myself simply enjoying my Ipod with UE Triple.Fi 10 earphones! Keep it simple!
Well, I enjoy ipod on the go too, but,come on, there is no substitute for good pair of speakers and the rest that's attached to them.
Inna, I don't disagree... my comments earlier referred to the fact that there is a lot of great, affordably priced gear out there now; there are many more choices now for "audiophiles on a budget" to build great systems.
Yeah. As I said in other threads $5k-$50k range in used prices seems reasonable to me unless the room is very big. This includes analog front end. Spend less and it won't be good enough, spend more and it might be better but not by much. My system as it is at the moment is about $7.5k; it's not bad but I will slowly continue improving it. I probably don't need $50k, $30k or so.
Some of the really good stuff from back in the 70's to 80's is probably as good as it will ever get and can be picked up very reasonably these days, aka the Ampzillas, early Boothroyd Stuart Meridian, Bedini, LSR&D to name a few(very biased in this regard) and once gone over and refurbished will unquestionably hold their own and give anything a run for it's money today. Easily spank a lot of it too! I've listened to lots of current gear out there and would put mine up against all of it.
In the same way that you don't consider the $1k system as adequate, someone would look down on your $7.5k system as insufficient for truly enjoying music. There's no substitute for a serious $150k system? It's funny how that works.
"There's no substitute for a serious $150k system?"

How about a more serious 250k system, but seriously how serious do you want to get? Seriously, I just don't get it. I often wonder what this is really all about. It isn't necessarily the cost it is the constant search for whatever it is that is unsatisfactory or unfullfilling in a given system that compels folks to continue with the upward spiral, the downward spiral, I get it, take a deep breath, relax and just enjoy.
Would it not be a good idea to post your age when responding to this thread? It would give us some perspective on where you're coming from in terms of your position, especially the high dollar ones. Just what era does your point of view emanate from? What initial gear are you not satisfied with? What is your experience? This thread could be a culmination of a bunch of previous ones.
'Would it not be a good idea to post your age when responding to this thread?'

This an excellent Idea. I would say ALL responses on this site should include age. A lot of these folks sound like teenagers.
It also depends, of course, how lucky you are when you buy used or even new.I bought some used items for half the price and some for less than that. Sometimes I myself look down at my system especially the Audiolab integrated. But I prefer to wait and replace it with most likely Rowland in couple of years rather than be somewhere in the middle. $1k can go a long way on yardsales, that's for sure, but it's not what I was talking about when I mentioned the $5k figure.
In response, I'm in my mid-50s.
Perhaps this means gradual hearing loss is part of the picture - not sure about this though.
Drubin, your point is well-taken. I've always loved the hobby (because it involves music all the time) and the constant searching for improvements.
But there's a more profoundly important point, at least so I'm beginning to believe; this is to do with the arbitrary source material...

There is no Absolute Standard for recordings, or for live music either. Just about every recording, pressing, equalization, listening room, etc etc, is different. Is it not true that some systems/rooms will work better with some sources, and not others? I for one have experienced audio nirvana with some recordings - but in specific sytems - and been disappointed in other systems with the same source material.

And vice versa!

This is one of the fundamental reasons for my "downgrading"
With my present, more humble, system, some of my recordings sound divine, more so than before. Perhaps others don't.

It almost feels like a lottery!

I don't have room for multiple systems. It feels like every system I've ever put together has had its own set of "favorite recordings". This one is no exception. As I write I'm listening to a CD re-issue of Billy The Kid in the Living Stereo series - thrillingly involving!

It's an odd business to be sure, with no clear winners and losers.....
Very well said 57s4me... you wrote exactly what I think, especially paragraph two. Couldn't agree with you more!
57s4me, I'm also in my mid-fifties. I agree with your assessment but there is no absolute standard for gear either, which is why the results are so skewed. I've arrived at the position that the gear has to be "truly flat", given that all other parameters are functionally of high caliber. Otherwise you have some recordings that are fabulous and some that are horrible. This way they're pretty well all going to be at least "good". You actually begin hearing the source material instead of a skewed end product being influenced and quite often ruined by gear that injects it's own flavor. In many cases exacerbating an already challenged recording. I find this to be true all the way up the scale in terms of the fidelity of the source material. Is the the goal not having the gear "disappear? That's when you truly listen to the "music". That's when the gear is performing phenomenally.
I'm 57 and after reading these posts I've come a similar conclusion to that of
Csontos. A relatively flat response, amp and source wise, had gone a long way to making all of my CDs sound better than before. Since it has finally broken in, even recordings I wouldn't have listened to again sound pretty darn good, if not really good. The bad ones still sound poor but that is due to the limits of the recording industry back then. Granted, as 57s4me pointed out, every pressing is of different quality and nowadays you can really hear the differences, but a flat response will make most of them shine.
I left speakers out of this since they should be allowed the various shades of tone and rolloffs and what have you and not the other way so the music has at least a chance of coming through as clean as possible before it arrives at the speakers.
I hope I didn't open a can of worms here but that is my take.
Remember, the entire system is nothing but a "playback device" and the weakest link,ie: your speakers, are what you get used to the quickest.
Yes, the speakers are the easiest to acclimate to but they are definitely limited by what's upstream. Weak link though they are, they really shine and show their potential once something really good is upstream.
Case in point: I had an amp out for a mod and used a previous one that I hadn't sold yet and was vastly disappointed by what I heard. Had I not had the amp that I sent out, I would have passed on the speakers and the CDP and had and got caught up, again, in the chase for something better. That older amp brought everything down several notches.
The speakers were great as they were: they just needed something as good as they were.
Right on! They actually end up becoming the " strongest" link.

Although I'm poor, there is no way I can empathize with the "Downward Spiral". I am enjoying some inexpensive electronic improvements that brought about a quantum leap in sonics. As a retired electronics technician and audiophile, this is possible.

Music lovers who are not audiophiles, spend an excessive amount on "new music". That's because what they purchase quickly gets old, which is a result of the fact that they never hear all of the music that's on the CD or LP.

At this time, I am listening to music I bought ages ago that is brand new. Although I've heard this music countless times before; it is brand new today. I hear more detail, startling dynamics, and a soundstage which creates the illusion of phantom musicians in the room.

After you've been where I am, how can you go back?

I think the answer is simple, and I say this with the greatest respect: it seems that today we're both loving the music we hear.

Perhaps our processes have been slightly different, but ultimately that doesn't matter. Our delight in listening to music we love is all that matters!
57s4me, your answer has the ring of a professional musician. No professional musician I ever knew personally, was an audiophile. They could hear things on a common rig, many audiophile's wouldn't hear on the best rigs. (nothing to do with the ability to hear)

This recent improvement I'm so wild about at the moment will be old in 15 minutes or so; but the music is constant, it's always good.
Believe it or not, some male vocalists sound better on "Lo Fi", than on "high end"
I picked up a pair of Polk SRS and a rebuilt Marantz 2270 for well under a grand. I am not missing any of my higher end components.
Orpheus10, not believable! Crawfojb, entirely possible; again, what's your age?